Sprudge Associate Editor Liz Clayton recently attended Sustainable Harvest‘s Let’s Talk Coffee conference in Panama. Here is her second field report–read Part 1 here

Post-HarVee jubilation, Let’s Talk Coffee leapt right back into its jam-packed schedule Friday morning. Today would be Geisha day, it seemed: the prized, esteemed (and sometimes irrationally chased) coffee variety that vaulted to fame at Panama’s own Hacienda La Esmeralda. Left Coast Roast author and sometime Sprudge contributor Hanna Neuschwander kicked off the morning with a brief history of Geisha’s rise to celebrity bean status, followed by a panel on the wake of that celebrity ten years out. (Beyond the increased interest in the variety’s agronomy, and continued chasing-the-dragon that’s followed the $20-per-cup era, Geisha is credited with introducing the contemporary wave of fancy coffee packaging—because you can’t sell coffee for $100 a pound in a kraft paper bag.) Continually one of the most interesting commentators on the agricultural side of coffee this weekend was the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Aaron Davis, who voiced the final question on everyone’s minds: “Are there other Geishas out there? I think the answer’s yes.”

Finca Sophia Geisha Panama Sprudge Let's Talk Coffee
Geisha trees growing at 1900masl, Finca Sophia, Panama.

One of two of this event’s panels on storytelling within coffee—whether as a publication, barista, roaster, producer, or beyond–came next, detailing a successful Facebook campaign by Blue Bottle Coffee, the YouTube-rich career of international barista trainer Kim Ossenblok, and a few words from this writer on how Sprudge engages digitally with coffee aficionados and cats alike. Oscar Magro, Sustainable Harvest‘s Q-certified tech expert, introduced Tastify, the company’s new cupping note app, which we’d come to know well during the course of the event.


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Returning to more immediate social justice applications was a panel on TOMS one-for-one method, wherein the recent-to-coffee-market footwear and eyewear company donates one week’s worth of drinking water with the purchase of one bag of their coffee. It’s similar to their existing models, said LA-based TOMS Roasting coordinator Elan Lieber—who added, “coffee does not taste like shoes.”

Folks dispersed for Conilon and cocoa panels, buyer meetings and poolside drinks, and soon it would be time for Sevan’s Grill, Let’s Talk Coffee’s annual meat-ing of the minds presided over by Sevan Istanboulian, of Cafe Mystique and Dalla Corte North America. Delicious grilled items came with a tall glass of Ron Zacapa and a side of the Macarena, and if you’re lucky you aren’t the roaster/griller who woke up in a deck chair at nine o’clock…..PM.

Sprudge Let's Talk Coffee Panama
Let’s Talk Coffee attendees Edgard Bressani, Laura Holcomb, and Marty Curtis.

Where Friday’s morning started with uplifting Geisha celebration, Saturday’s was more somber, focusing on coffee leaf rust (Roya) and climate change. Dr. Aaron Davis returned to the stage for a focus on climate change through the lens of wild Arabica, and the potential for sustainability through other—and some potentially forgotten—species of coffee.

Sustainable Harvest’s founder and president David Griswold presented on the human side of Roya, following up last year’s Let’s Talk Roya sessions. Next were Oliver Strand‘s inquiry into progressive coffee retailing, further in-depth looks at all aspects of the supply chain, storytelling modes, and more Let’s Talk Cocoa sessions. A quick trip around the cultural world of coffee-producing countries—showcasing the best cookies and national liquors of these nations—lifted peoples’ spirits further before the evening’s crescendo of Panamanian traditional dancers and an eight-hour overnight bus ride to Boquete.


The next day’s field trips would see small groups disperse across the Boquete region’s farms, names familiar to specialty consumers like Don Pachi, Carmen Estate, and of course Hacienda La Esmeralda.

Sprudge Let's Talk Coffee Panama Carmen Estate
Ripe Catuai at Carmen Estate
Carmen Estate Let's Talk Coffee Panama Sprudge
Carlos Aguilera hosting at Carmen Estate.

For many, the opportunity to see Geisha growing up close would be a life-changing event, worth any measure of bus-sleeping, mountain-hiking, rain-in-back-of-pickup-truck-riding, or even truck-breaking-down-ness. These five days of coffee introspection within a diverse community of producers, coffee traders, agronomists and those who deliver the finished product would come to its most essential communal moment in these farms and forests, each person stopping to appreciate, honor, and pause for a moment—at the very beginning.

Liz Clayton is the Associate Editor at Sprudge.com, and helms our NYC desk. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.

Photos by Liz Clayton.

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